My name is Alexis. I’m from Barcelona and I was born on 1982.
Yes, in Barcelona.
What is your occupation/passion?
I work in a sport consulting company and my passion is football. The Barça.
It has undergone a dramatic/great change, specially after the Olympics. Barcelona has always had a lot to offer, but we didn’t realize that. It was in 1992 when the city started to develop. We opened the city up to tourists and we realized it was a treasure.
How has your neighborhood changed?
I was born in the upper-middle class neighborhood. My parents bought the apartment, which was 2583 sqft, in 1985. I remember it was surrounded by fields that belonged to gipsies. They were the first ones that settled in Barcelona. It was an area with luxury tennis courts, gyms etc and then you had this people.
Did you have any contact with this people?
I saw them everyday. They were as joyful as they could be. Some of them are still around nowadays.
When a city is considering a bid to host The Olympics, Barcelona ‘92 is always cornerstone to the discussion, as it is ‘The Great Olympics Success Story.’ In what ways were the ‘92 Olympics a force for good in the city, when so many other Olympic hosts have experienced mixed, and often disappointing results?
First-time visitors, attending the ‘92 games, saw a modern Barcelona when they left the Olympic village and toured the city streets. They didn’t know how much had changed during the run-up to the Olympics. From the perspective of someone who lived here before and after, what impact did the 1992 Olympics have on Barcelona? What changes could be seen visibly?
Everything changed. Of course, Barcelona has always been an organized city with the Eixample. But it was an inaccesible city for some people. You couldn’t step inside some neighborhoods, as they were too dangerous.
Efforts were being made to ensure the city was clean. However, the area was not well connected. Barcelona couldn’t be the most important city in Spain. Even though it had a lot to offer: the weather, the sea etc, the city was devastated.
Are there specific places that still bear the scars of the city’s turbulent past?
I wouldn’t dare to call Barcelona a turbulent city. Barcelona was gray. But it has always been a very kind, welcoming and joyful city. You could go anywhere, and, as we were saying There were dangerous neighborhood, but people were happy. They lived the present, even if they weren’t sure where they would sleep that night. They were different.
I think that the neighborhood that resembles the most to the old Barcelona is la Barceloneta.
Why la Barceloneta?
La Barceloneta has always fed Barcelona. People believe that fish comes from another sea. But the fish eaten in Barcelona comes from the Mediterranean and from the Barceloneta. And they are fishermen and fish sellers up to 4 generations old (?). This is the real Barceloneta.
Wounds of the past? A lot. Some have healed, some have not. In la plaça de Sant Felip Neri, we can find bullet holes from the executions by firing squad that took place during the Civil War. Pere Marcet is my great-grandfather. He was one of the founding members of Barça, as well as one of the first players. He was the manager of a family business. He was hired by a Swiss company that installed heating in Spain and Barcelona.
From then on, he met the Witty brothers, Hans Gumper and noseque Futbol Club Barcelona.
Barça is, as we say, “more than a club”, because the team started as mass entertainment. People were really oppressed back then. We’re talking about a time previous to a war.
Barça has lived before, during and after a war. Nowadays, Barça is a symbol of Catalan identity.
As far as things have been done, differently to other clubs like Real Madrid. I’ve seen those people when I’ve had the chance to travel. Both Barça and Madrid are huge clubs. But those people that have come closer, that have seen the stadium and that have met the Catalan reality,
the reality of the club. I believe they have found love and passion. They identify themselves with us, because we’re, as we’ve said, more than a club. There’s something more than football.
How was the team affected by Franco’s repression?
Repression was awful during Franco’s dictatorship. Sunyol, one of the presidents of Futbol Club Barcelona, was killed.
The team was always supposed to lose when it played against Madrid. Madrid always won everything whereas Barcelona had to lose.
The scores were shocking, like a 11-1. Because Catalan was forbidden, the names of the stadium and the club had to be changed.The club was now named Club de Fútbol Barcelona
I don’t know the history because everything happened long ago, but the players were harassed. Something bad could happen if they won over Madrid.
When the war was over, the country was ruled by Franco. During that period, one of the greatest players, Alfredo Di Stégano, played for Madrid, even though he signed with Barça.
Barça signed Ladislao Kubala and Di Stéfano only trained a couple of days with the Catalan team. After a few days, the Government forced him to play with the Real Madrid. They were afraid that Barça started winning.
Rivalries are common in professional sports, but the one between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona is notable. Can you talk about the long-standing rivalry between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona? What were its origins? What is the rivalry like today?
It’s classic. We can’t forget that Madrid was founded by two Catalan brothers. The rivalry started long ago, mainly because it was a capital city team against a provincial city one. This rivalry, even though it started during the dictatorship, is still increasing due to the current politics.
One team has taken up the battle cry for Catalanism, Catalunya and Barcelona and the other; Spain, nationalism and centralism. A lot of outsiders identify themselves with us because our fight against Madrid and the government is not only about sports.
FC Barcelona is one of the most loved and admired sports teams in the world today. How did they become so big? When did this happen? Why did it happen?
FC Barcelona gained popularity with Leo Messi. I dare to say we’ve had one of the best football players. We could talk about Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo and Ronaldinyo, but it was not until Leo Messi signed up that FB Barcelona became so popular. We could compare him to Babe Ruth, from the States.
He has broken all the records, he’s in everyone’s lips and every team would like to have him. But let’s not forget that Barça advertised Unicef free of charge. And on top of that, the team paid for it! Since then, Barça has been seen as a sympathetic team.
RCD Espanyol was founded in 1900. Historically, what is its relationship to the city and its people? How does that contrast with FC Barcelona’s relationship?
It’s not good. We should blame politics; both from the government and from sport. We used to live next to the old Espanyol stadium in Sarrià. The board of directors spent like a sailor. The club had to sell the stadium and the land was finally brought by the city council, which didn’t hesitate to knock it down.
They first rented Montjuïc and then they were kicked out. Pericos, the members of Espanyol, have always hated Barça and Barcelona because of this. We are not guilty of what happened.
Basketball is also a very popular sport in Barcelona, and Barcelona Basquet has experienced a great deal of success over the past 20 years. Can you talk a bit about Barcelona basketball?
I’m not really into basketball. But we are there when we have to. We’ve had great players that have played in the NBA, such as the Gasol brothers.
But what I remember clearly is when the Lakers came to Barcelona to play against Barça. The best club of the States was coming, it was an honor.
And we [Barça] won! Seeing 20,000 people rooting for the team in the Palau… it was amazing. People that may not enjoy basketball, like me, were there.
Can you talk about the importance of sport more generally in Catalan culture?
Barça has always had a variety of sport options: hockey, indoor football, handball… You can’t keep up with all of them. I followed indoor football for some time. Barça had a team that never won anything. Fortunately, the best player of the world, a Spanish man named Javier Rodríguez, agreed to play for FC Barcelona.
He said: “I want to play for Barça” and then the team reached First Division. We won 3 or 4 leagues, 2 cups of Europe, 3 or 4 Copas del Rey.
We noted that, in 2010, you were in contention for presidency of FC Barcelona. What are the president’s responsibilities? Will you tell us about that experience?
We were a very young group. Young, trained and tired people. We had been members of the club all our lives. I, back then, had been a member of the club more years than the one that won the Barça’ elections.
And we were sick of seeing how our club was going in a direction we didn’t like. We were tired and we said: “Hey, we are members, we can do it, right?”
It could be legally done so we proceed. We spent a lot of months working on the project. We were afraid of being accepted. We could talk about Trump now, the media is who actually rules.
The press decides who is suitable or not. They can be wrong, though. They said we were suitable and we were the youngest candidacy in the history of the club.
It was a beautiful experience. We were so close to Barça. A lot of ex-players and very important people took our side.
They knew we were kind-hearted, real, the clubinits core. Once the process started, we realized that it was all political.
We didn’t like it. It was a beautiful and frustrating experience because we saw that someone else would win and so everything would remain the same. Maybe you’ll see us there in 10 years.
Who is German Plaza, and what is your relationship to him? Any stories about him you can tell us?
My great-grandfather was Spanish. He was born in Pozáldez, Valladolid. They were 11 or 12 brothers, I don’t remember exactly.
He moved to Barcelona and he opened a liquor store. When the war started, he was so afraid of the bombings that he had to move outside the city. He came and went everyday from la Garriga. He walked 60 km everyday. My grandfather says that his brothers and him would always clean his bloody feet. The liquor shop turned into a publishing house. It started growing until it became Plaza & Janés.
How long has your family been in Barcelona? Any other family members whose careers or actions influenced the city and its people?
My mother’s family had the grandfather Vicenç. He was a farmer. I have this very funny photo of him, which is less than 100 years old,
dressed as a farmer, which nowadays we’d only see in festivals. He worked in Barcelona and then he got a spot in El Mercat del Born, which nowadays is only visited by tourists.
They see the ruins of the old city of the Born. My family imported the tropical fruits to Barcelona. It used to be impossible to eat a pineapple, a papaya, a mango… That was sold to wholesalers. El Mercat del Born had its own coin and a few weeks ago we found our great-grandfather’s coin in the house.
Do you remember any stories your parents or grandparents told you about the past?
There’s one. I live in Vallvidriera, the mountain of Barcelona. Why did we move there? My mother’s family ended up living there. They lived downtown. My mother had an uncle with a a lung disease.
A doctor told my family: “you should take advantage of the house you have in Vallvidriera”. Well, back then people used to spend the summer vacation in Vallvidriera because it took 2 hours to get there from Barcelona.
They were told that the air of the mountain would heal him. So they moved there.
Let’s talk about the Second Republic and about the Civil War. No one wants a civil war, brothers kill brothers.
During the Civil War people committed atrocities. It didn’t matter which side you were on. If you were in a national territory, you were national.
If you were in a communist territory, you were communist. That was it. The communists, the reds, came looking for my grandfather.
They wanted him to kill a farmer because he owned some money. He refused, but he [the farmer] was killed anyway. He [my grandfather] had to run away and he had to hide.
My great-grandmother lived in la Garriga and volunteered in a children’s hospital. An area of the Vallès was bombed by the Condor Legion and a bomb fell on the railways and the shrapnel fell into her hip. She was found two days laters and remained all her life lame.
Later on, my great-grandfather had to shake hands with Franco. This is really odd, right? His wife was lame at home because of the bombings but he had to go there because he was a successful business man. Without any kind of resentment.
Discussing the Second Republic and the Civil War, what I have always heard at home is that no one wanted the Civil War, because brothers kill brothers. It didn’t matter which side you were on in Spain.
They manipulated you. If you were on the nationalist’s side, you had to fight for them and so it was the same with the communist’s one. My grandfather, who was from Badalona, was forced to kill a neighbor. Why? To survive. Otherwise he would have been the one killed. After this event, he ran away and hid for three years in the attic.
He had to kill someone who he knew. It was probably because of money. People killed because of envy.
My great-grandfather, Germán, the founder of Plaza y Janés came and went to Barcelona from la Garriga everyday. My great-grandmother volunteered in a children’s hospital. The Italian Condor Legion, bombarded the railway station in la Garriga. The shrapnel attacked her hip. He spent two days under the ruins of the building.
She spent the rest of her life lame, with a walking stick. A few years after this incident, my great-grandfather, who by then was an important business man, had to shake hands with Franco. You can think: Isn’t it infuriating! But I’m sure he wasn’t resented. Because back then you were manipulated, maybe they weren’t neither nationals or communists. This is why the Civil War was so sad.
We hear a great deal about Catalonia wishing to be free of Spain, and form a free independent nation. Are you in favor of Catalan Independence?
How has the city changed since the economic crisis began?
That’s a good question. I don’t think Barcelona has changed that much. It’s true, though, that we had the anti-austerity movement in Plaça Catalunya and that people suffered.
But we didn’t suffer that much at a city level. We kept receiving tourists.
Barcelona was strong during the economic crisis. We kept offering what we had to offer and tourists kept coming. But some people had a hard time.
A lot of young people lost their job and had to move back with their parents. Why? Because salaries are very low in Spain. This crisis should had been an opportunity because the real-estate bubble collapsed. And if young people had had the same wages as in England, France or USA…. They should have had the chance to buy or rent a property, and it was the opposite.
The market stagnate, the apartments were abandonment, the young people living with their parents… and now there’s a real-estate bubble again.
Who’s buying the apartments in Barcelona today? Outsiders. It’s all foreign capital. They are kicking out the Catalans and Barcelona people from their own cities.
Catalans have always been very welcoming. The first word Barcelona said to the rest of the world after the Olympics was: hello. The last one was: “friends for ever”. We have always welcomed people from all over the world.
Our identity hasn’t changed, even though we have taken in things from other cultures. What’s the difference nowadays due to technology?
That we have more information, we can communicate faster, we know what’s going on and we’ve more liberty to complain. It’s becoming very important. We know how we’d like Catalan to be, and some people may not like this. We need to fight this.
That’s the reason we have this constant fight with the government: we want Catalan to have more presence in public schools. Catalan is our mother tongue. It’s a dialect for Spain, that’s the difference.
At first, we, Catalans are very suspicious of everything. blabla nowadays, you can find us everywhere, we’re discoverers. We enjoy traveling and meeting new people.
However, it can be difficult for us to trust people when they come to Barcelona or Catalunya. I don’t think this happens in the rest of Spain.
What’s true, though, if you happen to be in trouble at anytime … They’ll open their homes. If there’s one thing we always do, is help. Why? Well, because we’ve been helped too. It’s something we will never forget.
How can you identify a Catalan bar right away, as opposed to a tourist haunt?
That’s easy. noseque. Maybe is one of the cities with more bars in the world. You can have something outside a café… But a Catalan bar is a neighborhood bar. You’ll recognize the same faces everyday. The bar never changes. Nowadays, these bars tend to appear in travel guides so it’s usual to see tourists there. Whether you like it or not, bars have changed in order to attract tourists. They need the money, don’t they?
Catalan culture has experienced repression on numerous occasions over the past 500 years. Yet, the culture endures. The language endures. How have the Catalans been able to keep the culture intact for so long?
It has to do with identity. Catalans are hard-workers, open-minded and they hate oppression. They just don’t care about oppression anymore. Even if Catalan was forbidden in schools during Franco’s dictatorship, people never stop using it.
A few days ago I was talking to my grandmother, who is currently 95 years old. I asked her: “Maria, what school did you go to?”
She replied: “Well, as you may know, my father worked for a swiss company, so I went to a swiss school”. And I said: “What languages did you study?”
“Only German and French.” “And Catalan?” “Catalan was not taught in schools but at home”. So, Catalan has always been passed on by generations.
Catalan has always been learned at home, not in school. And that’s the issue nowadays: people want it to be taught in schools, so the government complains. They are afraid it banishes Spanish.
We don’t speak disparagingly about gipsies. You should respect them. They have helped to build the Barcelona we know today.
During the Olympics there were artists such as Peret. I used to live near the fields where gipsies worked at.
What happens is that maybe, as they lived a simple life, they didn’t mind not having a roof above their heads. They lived at the beach with their donkeys and goats,
the same beach where people swim today. This people were pushed aside. This people brought joy and sense to the city.
It’s something we can’t forget. You can still find them. I’ve known some of them for ages.
In the United States, we’ve all seen numerous travel programs about Barcelona. What are some things about the city that Americans will not learn from travel programming?
We have to move away from travel programming because tourism has changed. We are more “story telling”, we prefer to blend with the locals. No documentary will tell us how to live like them [locals]. Maybe we’ll find it in some random travel guide. What would I say to an American or to any tourist? Come here 10 days, speak to locals.
One must let to be advised for locals. Barcelona nowadays is a very safe city. Of course pickpocketing can happen in les Rambles. People shouldn’t be afraid to come to Barcelona. The city allows you to discover small charming places.
I still discover new places in the city. I was talking with my great-grandmother when she told me she had never been to Barcelona’ beach before 1992. The sea was dirty and full of rats.
We only fished there. It’s one of the things that we hided as well. We offer it to tourists nowadays. The first time I swam there was in 2001, not long ago. The city has changed positively.